Friday, October 1, 2010

Democratizing Development Research?

A brawl has broken out over the call by World Bank President Robert Zoellick to democratize development research.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick challenged economists to take on tougher challenges in development economics and to consult a wider range of professionals in developing countries, opening a debate about how effectively economists have attacked problems in global poverty.
Dani Rodrik is happy but Bill Easterly is not:
"The speech hits all the right notes: the need for economists to demonstrate humility, eschew blueprints...and focus on evaluation but not at the expense of the big questions," Mr. Rodrik said.

But the reaction wasn't unanimous. New York University economist William Easterly, a former World Bank economist who is skeptical about the value of foreign aid, called Mr. Zoellick's comments "amazingly presumptuous." He says the current system of economic research, where ideas are picked apart by other economists, works well. If anything, he says World Bank economists are often the exception because their bosses pressure them "to reach the 'right' conclusions," Mr. Easterly said—meaning that World Bank loans are useful and foreign aid is productive.

This has led to a debate between Bill Easterly and World Bank Chief Economist Martin Ravallion on Bank censorship of research. The debate is kind of unfair. How can you really be taken seriously in a defense of bank propriety if you are employed currently by the Bank?

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